Problem areas persist
By Stephanie Choate
Williston and Champlain Valley Union High School students showed some improvement and scored above state averages on the New England Common Assessment exams, though problem areas remain.
The Vermont Agency of Education last week released the results of the tests, known as NECAP exams.
Students in grades three through eight and grade 11 in Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine take the tests in the fall. Reading and math tests were given to students in grades three through eight and grade 11. Students in grades five, eight and 11 also took writing exams.
NECAP scores are split into four levels: proficient with distinction, proficient, partially proficient and substantially below proficient.
Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca said the state is focused on improving math scores.
“If Vermont’s students are going to be ready to continue their education beyond high school and be successful in the 21st century, they’re going to need stronger math skills and knowledge,” Vilaseca said in a press release.
WILLISTON MAKES SOME GAINS
Williston School District students’ reading and math scores were almost the same as last year’s scores, but writing scores leapt by 10 percent in both fifth and eighth grade.
In grade five, 56 percent of students scored proficient or higher, above the statewide average of 51 percent. In grade eight, 79 percent of students scored proficient or above, compared to 66 percent statewide.
Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli said writing has been an area of focus in recent years, and scores are beginning to reflect the work.
In the reading portion of the exam, 83 percent of Williston students scored proficient or above, 10 percent higher than the statewide average.
On the math test, 74 percent scored proficient or better, compared to 65 percent statewide.
Williston students scored lower than other schools in the supervisory union in most areas, though by a smaller margin than in other years.
Nardelli was blunt in his assessment of Williston’s performance.
“The fact is we would like to see growth every year of 5 percentage points or more, which we’re not seeing,” Nardelli said. “The scores in reading and math are good scores, but they could be better.”
Nardelli noted that the scores don’t reflect the results of newly implemented initiatives at the school, such as the extended day Spark Program and summer school, as well as professional development programs for teachers.
Williston has historically struggled to close the gap between certain subgroups—students on free and reduced lunch and students receiving special education—and their peers.
Scores for Williston students on free or reduced lunch programs improved this year, except for a 9 percent drop in the fifth-grade writing exam. The percentage of students scoring proficient or higher jumped 11 percent in eighth grade, however, to 53 percent.
The scores of students receiving special education were similar to last year.
Williston’s scores in both subgroups were higher than state averages in all fields.
Williston has failed to meet federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards—as outlined in the No Child Left Behind mandate of 100 percent proficiency by 2014—for math and reading for students with disabilities and students on free/reduced lunch since 2008. As a result, the district must provide extra help to students in the subgroups.
“We’re coming up short,” Nardelli said. “Even though our scores aren’t bad, as a teacher I want every student to succeed. We don’t have room for any students to be failing.”
Nardelli said many of the school’s new initiatives work to identify and focus on students who are struggling.
“We want to see students passing, students excelling, regardless of how they’re labeled,” Nardelli said. “We want every student to be successful.”
CVU GRADUALLY IMPROVING
Champlain Valley Union High School students made slight gains on this year’s exams and scored above state averages in all areas, though math scores remained relatively low, following the statewide trend.
“I was very pleased,” Principal Sean McMannon said. “In every area—reading, writing and math—we had our highest percentage of proficient and above ever. What I really like about that is not just the improvement year to year, but now we have six years of data to look at and we have had a steady increase in improvement over time in all areas.”
On the reading section, 87 percent of CVU students scored proficient or higher, compared to 74 percent statewide. McMannon also noted that CVU saw it’s highest ever percentage of students scoring proficient with distinction, 46 percent, and lowest percentage, 4 percent, scoring substantially below proficient.
“I’m proud of our students,” McMannon said. “They take this assessment seriously and they put forth their best efforts.”
On the writing portion, 69 percent of students scored proficient or higher, well above the state average of 46 percent. On the math portion, CVU students were 55 percent proficient or above, compared with 38 percent statewide.
McMannon said math proficiency typically drops for high school students because not all students have completed the coursework covered on the test—algebra, geometry and algebra 2. The math scores are slowly improving, however, because the supervisory union has made an effort to shift algebra courses to eighth grade, giving students time to complete geometry and algebra 2 before taking the test their junior year.
In the areas of students on free and reduced lunch and students with special needs, CVU’s scores were better or the same as state averages.
McMannon noted that subgroup results should be taken with a grain of salt, since the population of students in those groups is less than 30, with some students in both subgroups.
“The numbers don’t always tell the real story when you look at those subgroups,” McMannon said. “You really need to look at individual students. … We want to (help those students improve) in a way that we meet them where they are and help them with those skills in a deep way, not just for a test.”
For full results, visit www.education.vermont.gov.